Paul says in 1 Corinthians we should eagerly seek the higher gifts, especially prophecy. If God's Word is here, what do we need prophecy for? How does God use prophecy?
1 Cor. 14:3 says "the one who prophecies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation." That's a support role to help believers in general. 1 Cor. 14:24-25 says an unbeliever seeing a bunch of people prophecy is "convicted by all..." "the secrets of his heart are disclosed..." and that he'll "declare that God is really among you." This is echoing Gospel passages about the purpose of signs and wonders in general: so that people will believe. Many will believe the Word itself. If they reject God and He is extra merciful, He may give a sign like prophecy to bring them to Him. Finally, 1 Tim. 4:14 shows Timothy's gift was given by prophecy. God may equip us for service that way. So, prophecy helps grow the church and keep it moving.
People debate this. So, I'll just show examples where Scripture says how it happened. We'll think on it from there.
12:3-8, God personally tells Aaron and Miriam how He speaks to
prophets vs Moses. He says, "I, the LORD, will make myself
known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream." Joseph
receives dreams. These major prophets received visions or dreams in
the text: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Nahum, Obadiah, and
Zechariah. Amos and Habakkuk "saw" God's words. Jonah was praying in a
fish but that's not relevant. Joel mentions
coming prophecies, dreams, and visions like they're synonyms (parallelism).
Saul, Ananias, Peter, and John get theirs in dreams and visions. Vast
majority of major prophecy involves visions and dreams so far. That
also all know with absolute certainty what God said to them.
Let's look at a
few that were different. Jeremiah asks for a confirmation sign in one
case. This seems because his faith is too weak, not doubt in the
source. God answers Job audibly out of a whirlwind. In 1
Sam. 3:1-15, Samuel hears God audibly, doesn't recognize Him,
comes to know Him, and then hears the rest in a vision.
Daniel was incapacitated while actually hearing God's words. We still see that God communicates in clear, supernatural ways with all but the non-believer recognizing it. This isn't just thoughts, speaking talent, and so on. Prophets in these examples don't wonder if they're hearing from God like many do today. They never fail, either, as we'll see later.
(Note: I'm still collecting accounts in God's Word on this part. I'll update it as I learn more.)
Churches must be ready to receive prophecies, though. The church service in 1 Corinthians had active participation. 1 Cor. says people might share a teaching, a hymn, a prophecy, a tongue, or an interpretation. The listeners did not believe them by default: each is shared with the others listening and thinking about what they said. Thessalonians says "Do not despise prophecies but test everything. Hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." You see the Bereans do this in Acts. Paul was an Apostle doing signs and wonders to prove God was with him. Instead of believing Paul, the Bereans diligently searched the Scriptures to make sure that nothing Paul said contradicted the existing Word of God. Why would they do that?
Jesus and Paul both warned us that we had to stay with that Gospel. Jesus said " there will arise false christs and false prophets, and will show signs and wonders, that they may lead astray, if possible, even the chosen ones." Paul warns, "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." Something that looks heavenly. They say we'll have the real Gospel and churches, and fake ones. God doesn't want blind faith. Someone might claim they speak for God (like a prophet or pope). They might look like Mary, heal people, do miracles. Maybe an angel appears. They might even be really loving doing many good things for people.
It doesn't matter. We're to put God first by testing all of them. That sounds hard. Do we have to investigate everybody or something?
God's made it much easier for us, most of the time. In the Mosaic Law, God lays down three rules for testing prophecy and power that both Old and New Testament prophets follow. Jesus used them. Therefore, your church should follow them, too. Here they are.
First test: Deuteronomy 18 says that any prediction must come true. The miracles always work, too. Our God isn't incompetent: His prophets and healers in Scripture always get the job done. They couldn't make mistakes because God's Law said to kill prophets that failed. If they get things wrong or their powers are unreliable, then they're not from God. Ditch them and everything they told you. But what if they're convincing fakes or Satan gives them his power they say is from God?
The second test: Even if they prophecy or do miracles, Deuteronomy 13 says new commands won't contradict existing commands. Nothing they say can contradict the existing Word of God. It has to line up with God's character, the Law, the Prophets, the Gospel itself, and anything factual in the Bible. If they argue with God's Word, what they're saying isn't from God. Actually, they're replacing God with something fake, profaning His name, and God's Word says He counts them and their followers as enemies. (2 Pet. 2:1-22)
Third test: Deuteronomy 4 and Revelation 22 say that, once God has spoke (eg a text is finished), nothing can be "added or subtracted." If they do, Revelation says God takes away "their share" in eternal life. That's any extra requirements for forgiveness, prayer, and so on outside of what God's Word requires aren't just wrong: it's a sin to even do them. A sin to even tell people to. And Revelation was the ending of the Bible. It even tells you everything that happens in the end.
Fourth test: So, anyone after Revelation claiming their new writing has the Bible's authority, or new canon, is a false prophet. Bible's closed and done. We just follow it, now. Be glad God stopped at 66 books because there's already so much to learn.
Those are the official tests. They're firm. Any church whose prophecies or signs fail these tests is either not from God or in disobedience to His Word. You should leave it. The highest priorities your church should have are the real Gospel, putting the Word first above all things, and love for others.
All of this makes it even more important to read the Word of God properly. Here's my article on how read God's Word in its original, historical context.
(The Gospel with proof it's true is here.)